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Treatment of Anxiety Disorders During Pregnancy

What's the best treatment of anxiety disorders during pregnancy? Can anxiety harm the baby? Read about treating anxiety symptoms during pregnancy.What's the best treatment of anxiety disorders during pregnancy? Can anxiety harm the baby? Read about treating anxiety symptoms during pregnancy.

(July 2002) This question appeared on the Mass. General Hospital Center for Women's Mental Health site and was answered by Ruta M. Nonacs, MD PhD.

Q. I am a 32 year old married woman, and my husband and I are planning to have a baby. For the last ten years I have suffered from generalized anxiety disorder and have had to take Paroxetine (Paxil). I still suffer from anxiety but can cope with it when I am on the medication. I am worried how I am going to feel when I am pregnant when I cannot take this medication. Are there any other treatments I could use during pregnancy? Would my anxiety harm my baby?

A. Given the limited information on the reproductive safety of certain medications, it is common for women to discontinue anti-anxiety medications during pregnancy. However, many women experience worsening of their anxiety symptoms during pregnancy, and it seems that the first trimester may be particularly difficult. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques may be very useful for treating anxiety symptoms during pregnancy and may reduce the need for medication.

Some women, however, may not be able to remain symptom-free during pregnancy without medication and may instead elect to continue treatment with anti-anxiety medications. When choosing a medication for use during pregnancy, it is important to choose an effective treatment with a good safety profile. We have the most information on the reproductive safety of Prozac (fluoxetine) and the tricyclic antidepressants. These medications are effective for the treatment of anxiety disorders, and research indicates that there is no increase in risk of major congenital malformation in infants exposed to these medications in utero. Nor is there any consistent evidence that these medications are associated with any serious complications during pregnancy. There is also one report on the safety of Celexa (citalopram), indicating no increased risk of major malformation in exposed children. We have less information available on the safety of other serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including paroxetine, sertraline, and fluvoxamine.

How anxiety in the mother may affect the pregnancy has been a topic of recent research, and several studies indicate that women who experience clinically significant anxiety symptoms during pregnancy are more likely to have preterm labor and low birthweight infants, as well as other complications, including pre-eclampsia. Thus it is crucial that women with anxiety disorders be monitored carefully during pregnancy, such that appropriate treatment may be administered should anxiety symptoms emerge during pregnancy.

Ruta M. Nonacs, MD PhD

Kulin NA. Pastuszak A. Sage SR. Schick-Boschetto B. Spivey G. Feldkamp M. Ormond K. Matsui D. Stein-Schechman AK. Cook L. Brochu J. Rieder M. Koren G. Pregnancy outcome following maternal use of the new selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: a prospective controlled multicenter study. JAMA. 279(8):609-10, 1998.

Glover V. O'Connor TG. Effects of antenatal stress and anxiety: Implications for development and psychiatry. British Journal of Psychiatry. 180:389-91, 2002.

DISCLAIMER: As it is not possible or good clinical practice to make a diagnosis without a thorough exam, this site will not dispense any specific medical advice.

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APA Reference
Writer, H. (1998, January 1). Treatment of Anxiety Disorders During Pregnancy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, October 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety-panic/articles/treatment-of-anxiety-disorders-during-pregnancy

Last Updated: July 2, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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